By Ryan Deto
PITTSBURGH — According to data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Pennsylvania ranks 34th among the states in the number of coronavirus vaccine doses administered per 100,000 people.
Allegheny Health Network recently told WTAE that the large hospital group has stopped scheduling for doling out additional vaccinations because they depleted their entire supply and they “do not know when we are getting more.”
Republicans have been quick to criticize Gov. Tom Wolf over Pennsylvania’s efforts to roll out the COVID-19 vaccine.
However, recently, a Pittsburgh-area Democratic lawmaker has also called out the state’s vaccine rollout, and other area Democrats have started to join her.
In a Jan. 22 statement, state Sen. Lindsey Williams commended two of the state’s health departments for working diligently, but said that many Pennsylvanians are still “confused and anxious to receive a vaccine.” Williams is calling for there to be clearer communication and more concrete answers on the state’s vaccine rollout.
I am asking for a transparent, clearly communicated, & efficient vaccine distribution plan. PA’ians deserve clear & direct communication about when they will be able to receive a vaccine & assurance that this procedure is being carried out equitably. https://t.co/Lz0EuurUq5 pic.twitter.com/tYfDWigrGF
— Lindsey Williams (@SenWilliamsPA) January 22, 2021
“I am asking the Department of Health for a transparent, clearly communicated, and efficient vaccine distribution plan for Pennsylvanians,” said Williams in a statement. “There is a dire need for Pennsylvanians to be able ‘sign up’ to be notified of when they are eligible to receive a vaccine and where they can receive it.”
In addition to her request for a system that would allow all Pennsylvanians to sign up for notifications on when they can get the vaccine, Williams also wants the state to partner with our small, local pharmacies to assist with distribution; hold large health care entities accountable to ensure they distribute to the most vulnerable first; and clearly communicate with all state residents about vaccination policy updates.
At least one of Williams’ requests appears to be granted, as Wolf announced on Jan. 25 a temporary waiver allowing licensed pharmacies in Pennsylvania to administer the COVID-19 vaccine without a physician’s order once the vaccine is available to the public. Neighboring West Virginia has seen success in distributing the vaccine through small, local pharmacies.
Another Pittsburgh Democrat, state Rep. Sara Innamorato, joined Williams in calling for a statewide coordinated sign-up system.
“Without a coordinated signup program, individual pharmacies are left to manage their distribution themselves, causing frustration and confusion,” Innamorato tweeted on Jan. 25.
State Rep. Jessica Benham, D-Allegheny, also said the vaccine rollout could be better and called for centralized sign up and communication system.
I’m with @SenWilliamsPA – we need a transparent, clearly communicated, & effectively coordinated vaccine distribution plan for PA. Without a coordinated signup program, individual pharmacies are left to manage their distribution themselves, causing frustration and confusion. pic.twitter.com/XDSyzjI3RZ
— Rep. Sara Innamorato (@RepInnamorato) January 25, 2021
Demand for the vaccine has spiked ever since the state expanded who can receive the vaccine under the 1A part of the vaccine roll-out plan.
Williams said she understands that the state is at the mercy of vaccine distribution plans determined on the federal level and that we are trying to administer every vaccine that we are given. But she says the state should be using certain tactics to make communication clearer, like using the statewide smartphone alert system to let people know when they qualify for the vaccine.
“This would be a good opportunity to use this existing app to allow individuals to sign up for the vaccine,” said Williams.
She also called out hospital giant UPMC for eroding the public’s trust, after reports surfaced alleging how the company was doling out vaccines to non-essential workers, while others weren’t able to access the vaccine.
“This only adds to the immense frustration felt by all of us, as we search for answers as to when our seniors and those with pre-existing conditions will be able to get their vaccines,” said Williams. “I understand that there is a delicate balance between enforcing guidelines and getting vaccines into arms as quickly as possible. … However, some level of accountability is also needed – especially when it comes to UPMC, who has eroded the public’s trust.”
According to the Associated Press, UPMC said it has vaccinated employees appropriately “to ensure the continued functioning of our vital health care services.”
“Our critics are misinformed, and our communities would be better served by a focus on rapidly expanding vaccine supply,” said UPMC spokesperson Paul Wood in a statement to the Associated Press.
Ryan Deto is a reporter for Pittsburgh City Paper, where this story first appeared.